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Cornell University

Aquatics-Minded Cornell Veterinary Students Drive Virtual Learning Efforts

Cayuga Lake Brown Trout by Christine Bogdanowicz
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) in Cayuga Lake, New York. © Christine Bogdanowicz

Veterinary students often use the summertime to explore their special interests within the field. For students interested in non-traditional species, such as aquatic animals, fewer traditional coursework opportunities exist within the veterinary curriculum, and externships provide valuable exposure to knowledge, skills, and species. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing resulted in cancellation of many such opportunities in 2020, including AQUAVET, a 4-week aquatic animal medicine program.

Fish course students during a Zoom session; top is Michelle, bottom is Shoshana
Aquatics-minded Cornell veterinary students; Michelle Greenfield, DVM ’23 (top) and Shoshana Zenilman, DVM ’23 (bottom).

Second-year Cornell veterinary student Michelle Greenfield, DVM ’23, aims to work in aquatic animal medicine and is also the host of the successful Aquadocs podcast. She saw an opportunity to get creative with virtual learning and supplement her education over the winter break. “I think it’s really important that students have the opportunity to find community among those who share a similar interest,” she said. Greenfield wanted to create a course that would provide a basic introduction to fish medicine and start to build the broad foundation that she will need for her eventual career.

Fellow second-year veterinary student Shoshana Zenilman, DVM ’23, found herself in the same boat. “Fish have personalities, the same ways that dogs and cats and cows do… and add on top of that how evolutionarily diverse they are. These are incredible species, and we are losing so many of them every day - it’s not that no one cares, it’s that no one knows!”

The students reached out to Rod Getchell, an assistant research professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Microbiology and Immunology with a background in fish health. Getchell worked with the students to design a 4-week virtual course covering topics including aquaculture, fish handling and anesthesia, water quality, fish diseases, and zebrafish experimental models and welfare. In addition to attending lectures and working through course material, students worked in pairs to develop clinical case presentations about common fish diseases. The case-based style allowed students to apply the problem-solving skills they were learning in the veterinary curriculum towards clinical cases in their area of interest. The cases developed by the students will additionally result in an interactive case-based learning tool for fish health, in collaboration with the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences in Hong Kong.

“We appreciate that the university is willing to support independent initiatives where we can pursue special interests and have the support and encouragement of thoughtful faculty who are willing to prioritize students and their education,” said Greenfield.

Written by Isabel Jimenez, DVM ‘19

Related projects: Freshwater Fish
Related programs: Aquatic Animals